Westmont College's Telescope Captures Supernova

Westmont’s Keck Telescope has confirmed the existence of a supernova, discovered March 2008 by astronomical investigators Jack Newton and Tim Puckett at the Puckett Observatory in North Georgia. Within 48 hours of receiving a call from Puckett about the discovery, Michael Sommermann, Westmont physics professor, spent several hours in the early morning photographing Supernova 2008an.

Supernova image

The supernova is clearly visible in one of the two spiral arms of UGC 10936, a galaxy about 400 million light years away. The typical galaxy contains 100 billion stars. Sommermann says that Supernova 2008an is so bright in the LRGB image that it shines with the power of several billion stars.

“Astronomers are interested in this because supernovas are like standing candles that allow us to figure out distances in the universe,” Sommermann says.

He says that it’s also exciting because it demonstrates the college’s potential for future searches, collaborations with other astronomers and student research.

Westmont College, located in Santa Barbara, California, replaced its original 16-inch telescope, donated in 1957, with a research-grade telescope funded in part by a $300,000 grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation in 2004. The Keck Telescope, a 24-inch F/8 Cassegrain reflecting instrument with Ritchey-Chretien optics, is one of the most powerful on California’s Central Coast. The images were captured with a CCD camera from Santa Barbara Instrument Group.

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